Unhealthy environments kill 12.6m per year

London [PAA]

Some 12.6 million people across the globe die every year due to unhealthy environments, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

Almost one in four of all deaths are due to living or working in unhealthy conditions, accounting for at least 1.4 million deaths every year in Europe, the study’s authors estimated.

The WHO said environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposure, climate change and too much sun contributed to more than 100 diseases and injuries.

And it said working environments – such as a poor ability to maintain a work/life balance, stress and sitting for too long – contributed to poorer mental health and skeletal problems such as back pain.

The report – Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments: A Global Assessment Of The Burden Of Disease From Environmental Risks – said deaths due to air pollution (including exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke), are responsible for as many as 8.2 million of the global deaths.

Illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease are all heavily influenced by unhealthy environments, it said.

Strokes caused by unhealthy environments lead to 2.5 million deaths annually, while heart disease causes 2.3 million deaths.

Unintentional Injuries (such as road traffic deaths) cause 1.7 million deaths annually, while cancer accounts for a further 1.7 million.

Chronic respiratory diseases claim another 1.4 million lives, with respiratory Infections accounting for 567,000.

Some 40 per cent of asthma cases are linked to unhealthy environments and could be cut by reducing air pollution, secondhand tobacco smoke, and indoor mould and dampness, the study said.

Meanwhile, 11 per cent of cases of depression are caused by unhealthy environments. Addressing factors such as ‘occupational stress’ and ‘work-life imbalance’ could help.

The report said evidence shows that mood and anxiety disorders are linked to ‘work stress and imbalance between work and family/personal lives’.

It added: ‘Insomnia has environmental and occupational components, mainly through exposure to residential and occupational noise, occupational stress, irregular working hours or jet lag.’

Triggers for migraine and other headaches have also been reported to include ‘bright lights, air quality, odours, stress and noise’, the report said.

A fifth of musculoskeletal disorders are also caused by poor environment, with WHO recommending a reduction in ‘occupational stressors’, poor work posture and prolonged sitting.

WHO director-general, Dr Margaret Chan, said: ‘A healthy environment underpins a healthy population.

‘If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.’

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